I’ve been a vegetarian for almost 18 years, but 6 years ago I made the commitment to go from a meat-free diet consisting of strictly chocolate, diet coke, pasta and cheese to one that actually consumes leafy greens. Just a few weeks into “Operation Popeye”, I discovered that eating healthy is an ambitious feat when one is both extremely busy and, more importantly, culinarily challenged. Today I’m finally well into a healthy eating routine, but it’s still tough to find a balance and stay committed when the Easy Mac in the pantry is calling out to me. After a long day at work and faced with a tittering tower of homework assignments, the idea of finding the time to cook a meal that is quick, healthy and appetizing is enough to put me spiraling on the verge of a full-time working, grad school student meltdown. In an attempt to maintain both my and his sanity, my husband and I eat out almost every night and over the years we’ve been able to find a number of local joints the offer quick, healthy and affordable options. One of our go-to dinners on the go is Chop’t, an amazing New York and DC based salad company.
Their salads are fresh and delicious, but my favorite part is the variety of options and tasty dressings! After becoming a loyal customer who stops in a few times a week, I came to the observation that there are two types if Chop’t customers: 1. The Lettuce Loyalists and 2. The Nutrition Newbies.
The Lettuce Loyalists at those who have eaten at the restaurant enough times to be able to recite the menu inside out on command. They know how spicy the creamy sriracha dressing is. They know that if you swap out egg whites instead of cheese it will cost you extra. They can even explain to you what a rattlesnake poll bean is. The Nutrition Newbies, on the other hand, may have just recently decided to give salad a real try. Excited by, yet overwhelmed by the wide array of options, they typically wait in line staring doe-eyed at the menu for 15 minutes before finally working up the courage order whatever the employees recommend.
During the weekday, I usually visit during peak lunch/dinner hours and I’ve noticed that an interesting thing happens when the line begins to swell. A divide grows between the loyalists and the newbies. The newbies would love you have just a moment to wrap their head around the myriad of options overwhelming their senses without having the sound of snarky comments about their ability to read echoing behind them. The loyalist, knowing exactly what they planned on ordering when they first joined the back of the line, would love to push past the newbies and take the express route to the chopping station as they run low on both fuel and patience. While I’m usually the one ready to run to the front of the line, it was interesting to empathize with the newbie experience when I took my dad with me for the first time. His typically vegetable intake usually ends with canned corn, so he was so excited by the new and exciting vegetable options. Overwhelmed though, he ended up just having me pick his salad and order for him. After living the ordering experience though his eyes, I left wondering if there was a design solution that could enhance the ordering experience of the diverse customer base that Chop’t attracts.
I pondered on the odd social predicament for quite some time, until I happened upon my eureka moment in the most ironic of places…Sheetz (a chain of gas station/convenience stores located in Ohio, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia and Pennsylvania)
My one exception to living the “Operation Popeye” way of life is when I’m on a road trip. When I’m in a car for 8 hours driving to visit family in PA, nothing excites me more than the prospect of crossing the NY/PA boarder and entering the land of fried pickles, breakfast burrito bowls and cheesy fries all at the touch of a button…that was it!! At the touch of a button!
Sheetz is nothing like the typical gas station convenience stores I’m used to in New York & CT. They have a full-menu fast food restaurant and even an espresso bar. What truly sets them apart is their touchscreen menus! When you walk in, you place your entire order via touchscreen and then take your printed ticket to the register to pay before picking up your food when it’s ready. Touchscreen ordering is quick, easy, efficient, and accurate, but even more surprisingly it’s also fun. While this set up works extremely well for a fast food restaurant (I’ve even heard that McDonalds has been prototyping the idea) I can only image how well it could improve the customer experience at a company like Chop’t where the experience is all about giving the customer options and control.
This could be the perfect solution to mend the fences and unite Chop’t loyalists and newbies. The loyalists could beat the line by going straight to the touchscreen menu to quickly pop in their order with ease and speed. The newbies would have a new tool to be able to take their time look through all of the extensive menu options and learn more information about the exotic and seasonal vegetable offerings. Its just makes too much sense. Mass transit systems have ticket kiosks. Banks have ATMs. Even modern movie theaters offer touch screen ticketing booths. Why should restaurants (especially ones with complex menus) not offer the same? In addition, Chop’t already offered online ordering services powered by Seamless Web so the transition to touch screen would be a natural one for many customers. It could even be as simple as having an online ordering app available for access on iPads mounted for customer access.
How might you enhance the customer ordering experience?